IR DVD Review: KING OF THORN [Funimation]

The intention of another plague like the one in the Middle Ages seems like a given at some point in modern life. The key is how does one fight against this kind of knowledge versus what we are able to control. “King Of Thorn” attacks this idea with an old world resonance, using mythology against us. The “Medousa” virus is born out of that legend of the woman/lizard who turned men to stone with a glance. The same element rules here with an incubation period of 60 days which is 100% fatal. Creating a Noah’s Ark type scenario, a scientist brings together a way to stop the virus until a cure can be found. The set up is wonderfully clever despite many holes along the way. The director interview on the extras would have one believe that everything is tied in together (which might be true) but the reality is that there is a lack of clarity on first viewing. The visuals and labyrinth approach in terms of structure are quite interesting but, not unlike the new “Dredd”, it suffers as well from the “just-get-out” problem. The reality is that the timeline and the basis of two twins becoming the catalyst for dreams (or video games) coming to life just doesn’t connect. The back story which involves the lead scientist and CEO finding an alien that was created by a little girl in Siberia by her mind tries to recount “Hellboy” but again without a truly specific through line. Even the intrigue behind the scenes with both the planted engineer as well as the soldier/spy sent in to protect the “experiment” seem a little far fetched. The influences from “Resident Evil” and beyond are apparent. The narrative is a bit clearer in the English dub but only based on the precedent of differences in accents and backgrounds in the character which for English speaking audiences cannot ascertain in the original Japanese dialogue. The eventual revelation of the two sisters as well as the connection to the computer/spirit of Alice has possibility but is not truly flushed out. The Q&A in the extras as well as the director interview tries to explain some of this but the visuals seem to take an overall higher road. The pilot film hints at something much more religious and intensive in the process and shows why the director got the job because there is scope. The overall film itself carries this but, towards the end, it forgets about context. The Japanese trailers do play to the strengths but the initial overseas trailer does the best job outside the pilot film. The US trailer uses different music which works but takes the idea in a different direction. In terms of other previews on the disc, “Stein’s Gate”, with its notions of time travel, has interesting possibilities until the microwave scenario cuts in. “Gai-Rei-Zero” in terms of its tone provides the most energy and darkness with a sense of knowing. “King Of Thorn” is ambitious in many ways and succeeds in some of them. However, despite its good ideas, there is a lack of overall clarity, some of which might be cleared up in consequent viewings, but nonetheless creates confusion on first impression.

C

IR DVD Review: .HACK//QUANTUM [Funimation]

The balance between the real world and the virtual world continues to meld in many ways as the aspect of what is crucial and not seems to disappear into the void. The aspect that has always been true with “.hack” in terms of the storyteling process is projections and what people consider real and false in terms of identity in their own life.

Like the concurrent novels, the anime adaptation “.hack/Quantum” takes the structure of quantum computers to create a notion of lost souls able to live on without a physical structure to keep them present in the real world. The narrative motivation here reflects on the increasing amount of plugged-in personalities who start to diverge from the real world since the texture of inhibitions and notions of self take a back seat and become a type of metaphorical idea of what an alternate world would be.

This specific interlay follows three gamers who meet up and travel in “The World”. When the structure of the gameplay seems to deconstruct because of “server maintenance” causing players to actually “hurt”, the balance between administrators and consumers seems to shift, both online and in the outside world. The element of having modern thinking and placed characters existing in an almost sword-and-sorcery world where dragons and monolithic statues of doom seem real creates an interesting dynamic. The statue of doom is particularly impressive because of the sense of scale interrelated with the use of clouds. This anime in its current form shows the balance of 3D and 2D concepts working well together.

The most sensitive of the girls meets up with a young boy/cat named Hermit who seems to have a hacking app inside the world all his own, though his motivations turn out to be more dastardly in an overall form leading to the injury of people on the outside world. The questions that “.hack” continues to ask have distinctifying presence in today’s youth society where people can text but not talk.

In terms of technical, the transfusion between Japanese and English language in terms of structure is negligible except for a bit of hankering around Tokyo. The extras seem to play a little more Eastern than usual. The “Chim Chim” animated interstitials are a bit of world play but simply fail to translate in an overt sense. The short subject of Yuo Oguaa including a quiz and cooking school are overly indulgent though a visit to the animation studio has some fun bits despite a lack of converted information. The promotional videos and trailers for “Quantum” interrelate the growing intent that this idea of connected worlds is different from virtual reality. Of the additional trailers, three that stand out are “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” (simply for its furturistic intensity), “Chrome Shelled Regios (because of its uber “1984” paranoia) and “”Requiem For The Phantom” (just for its pure gothic viciousness).

“hack//Quantum: cointinues to show the intentions in a world split between connectivity and disconnection which is of dire prevalence in our current state.

B

IR DVD Review: FAIRY TAIL Vol. 4 [Funimation]

“Fairy Tail” is a story of a young guild of wizards, more cyberpunk than Hogwarts, that believes in the power of connection above anything even when dissent threaten their very livelihood. The tendency of characterization balances between stakes that create intense emotional consequences and intensity that is simply created for the good of the game.

Disc 1 The aspect of the personalities that make up a Guild define exactly how the stories tend to be structured. The element of the family here makes their basis around Elza who, in the beginning is the most isolated of all. Three of the teams take out different opponents of a Tiger group though the realities of what is truly at stake seem less than diabolical. It is only through the possible loss of Elza’s friends who have come to mean everything to her that forces the inevitability to take a stand. The ideals are based in notions of identity and what it takes in terms of redemption to realize them. The two sided (literally) personality of the lead villain brings this more into full focus in the battle around the R System. There are some exceptional cinematic pieces aside from the normal battle sequences in this multi-arched structure. A supposed death sequence after an emotional sacrifice is well played offering some great emotional notes. The structure of this journey quest in allowing the members to find their own core self gives the anime a bit more depth than it might have normally. However when it returns to the Guild home at Fairy Tail, it becomes more conventional and Natsu starts to bear more than a passing resemblance to another hotheaded anime hero who tends to not know when he is beaten. The commentary shows a dexterity of how to modulate but skirts the issue regarding serious dramatic points instead aiming for  an angle of fan fun.

Disc 2 The aspect of family tries to play darker on the second disc but undeniably has a softer impact because of the lack of a more epic background. The bulk of the story in these episodes revolves around returning to the Guild proper and reintegrating with the other wizards instead of being on a one-off mission in search of the “truth”. The conflict here is between The Master of the Guild and his grandson Laxus who believes the congregation has gone soft and needs to be re-imagined. As a result, the over-reaching student sets up a high stakes battle that, while not killing the wizards involved, forces them against each other to prove who is willing to go the distance to protect the core. The main problem is that Laxus as a character is overplayed as a over-hyped, power hungry, high-on-his-own-supply beefhead who doesn’t necessitate sympathy even when he comes crawling back in shame. His underside simply comes off as a pathetic. While this makes the other characters, even Natsu, seems positively chivalrous by comparison, it tends to play more overwrought than necessary. The one fight where a quiet girl transforms into a She-Devil motivated by the almost death of her brother is the main angle of the disc that gives the progression weight. Granted some of the fights including the two-on-one Dragonslayer duel have their moments but they tend to pale in contrast to the stakes on Disc 1. The commentary on this disc, especially featuring the voice of Mira/She Devil who is also a writer on the translation, shows the interplay of creativity as well as frugality that allows the folks at Funimation to bring this kind of material to the States. In terms of trailers, “Chrome Shelled Regios” takes the cake with its near future textures mixed with an element of “Riddick” revolution.

While the first disc definitely shows the true potential of character connection, the second disc tends to rely on formula-bent structures of family discord despite some interesting fights, especially in the cathedral. “Fairy Tail” distinctly offers more than the name describes but its success is dependent on the level on the intensity of the game being played and the resounding stakes that must be fallen.

B-

IR DVD Review: RIDEBACK [Funimation]

“Rideback” is a story of a girl finding solace in the beauty of a machine which might be metaphor for other elements of life but, in finding the structure with her friends in tow and some specifics of international government, the progression, at times, while effective becomes over-indulgent.

Disc 1 The structure of which a ballerina becomes a robot cycle rider seems a stretch in certain ideals but the key is giving the lead character a means of connecting with humanity and herself. Otherwise it just becomes “girls and machines” motif. While the inset of the story seems to paint a completion trajectory because Rin, the former ballerina in question, wants to find a way to express herself after injuring herself beyond ever dancing professionally again, her follow-through shows her confusion. When she jumps aboard the Fuego, which gives faster than human reflexes but specially uses AI to fuse with its rider, reactions become more complicated. Halfway through the disc, civil unrest enters into the picture. The military is trying to develop these “ridebacks” into an extension of the soldier not understanding the physical prowess at times needed to make jumps and turns as Rin does. In a daring run, Rin ventures into a terrorist attack scene to save her friend and, through her acrobatics, evades a surface-to-air missile. After this intention, intrigue seems to follow her. Despite a news blackout she is eventually found out by the military and the press. When her brother tries to be cool and hangs with a motorcycle gang he is almost killed while Rin takes out the police contingent on her rideback. Rin as a character is interesting because she has moments of adrenalin followed by shame. She wants to be one with the bike because it gives her something she is missing yet every time she uses it she loses control. The balance between English and Japanese translation is a little more pronounced with the use of American slang being more prevalent. The commentary on episode 4 mixes the director and two of the female leads discussing the balance of silence and action as well as the gender traits of Fuego in question though the Shoko voice actor really has a thing for military guys.

Disc 2 Integrating the dark elements into the second disc, the tone takes on a specific downward trajectory. The first disc addressed the love that Rin has for the Fuego in that it completes her. At the end of the that progression, she uses her burgeoning powers to help save her brother. Afterwards as the GGP (the governing military organization) tries to keep her in custody to prevent her from becoming a martyr of the anti-governing protestors, the narrative takes on a more decisive tendency. The story becomes not one of riding, which the first disc plays to, but more to intrigue and a sense of identity. The intentions of specifically one supporting character being a beacon of light is cast out in a very brutal killing that takes places off screen which becomes a catalyst for the final battle of the show. However, the anti-climactic element of the final scene comes off a bit empty since the battle in terms of the larger picture is already won. It relegates a sense of full closure for the lead character and her need to be whole which plays a little bit too indulgent. The commentary plays too in deference to the catalyst scenario which the participants tend to get too emotional about. The textless opening music visuals are quite beautiful for sure. In terms of preview trailers, there is a balance between the old school coolness of “Trigun” and the futuristic 3D element of “TO”.

“Rideback” definitely creates a separate mindset from the norm especially within its more methodical second disc which reveals a more dark underbely. While the progression has its strengths, especially in the death of one of the members, the eventual resolution comes off as a bit too indulgent.

C

TO [Funimation] – DVD Review

“TO” as a standalone 2-part feature takes the idea of what “Vexille” showed with the new 3D anime software and brings it to space in the vision of an almost “2001/Star Trek” motivation. What is distinctly different here in the inset is the use of pace and not necessarily action that had been essential to the previous outing.

“Elliptical Orbit” begins the idea with a comparative fluidity prevalent in “Vexille” but what seems to have been accomplished in this outlay is a massive sense of scale which has become even more and more defined as the CG tools have become more realized. Detail is a given but senses of space and depth (which in the real world is determined by lenses) seem wonderfully envisioned here, especially with the docking mechanisms and use of sun flares. The story itself begins with a notion of “Blade Runner” which, even with some of the music using vocalists, harks to our oncoming future. The narrative involves a crew who travels back and forth from Alpha Centauri over a 15 year period in cryogenic sleep to bring back an energy source from a faraway and uninhabitable world. This is the only possible way to bring it back. There is an undeniable connection from the skipper of the transport vehicle (who looks no more than 32) and the older captain of the orbiting Earth station (which has the ability to fire cargo containers at the moon at high velocity). The orbiting station is attacked by terrorists looking to heist the energy and destroy the moon dwellings who are taking resources away from the Earth. While the motivation in the story has its holes, the revealing relationships, especially with the skipper and the captain, make this integral upon repeated viewings. While the resolution happens a bit too quickly making the plot points a little flimsy, overall the intention of the anime is sound. In terms of extras, the extended video segment with Director Funihiko Sori and stars Akio Ohtsuka (“Ben”) and Romi Park (“Maria”) show the similarities and differences in the actual production process of this kind of anime using live action mimicking of the physical form which makes the motion very different from classical anime. This is represented in more lingering shots, silences and glances which gives the animation a more emotional core. The teasers and spots seem to play up more to the action element of the terrorists which, while true, is the lesser of the strengths because of the depth structure allowed by the process of the animation. In terms of trailer, “The Last Exile” which is an older title sticks out simply because of its historical backdrop and fluidity.

“Symbiotic Planet” exists in a slightly different world where life is not as separated by thoughts of conquering as one might think. Again the backdrop functions on the basis of mankind depleting all their resources and being forced to move outward into the cosmos in order to survive. In a jump of technology and logic from “Elliptical Planet”, a trip to a nearby planet that boasts exceptional promise is only 21 light years away and journeyed to in 5 hours. The crux at the center of the story is a love affair between a man (“Ion”) and a woman (“Alena”) in two conflicting colonies. One is an American and one is a Eurasian, both bent on tapping the necessary permissions to mine the world’s possibilities. Other life exists on the planet but seems fairly benign. Ion, an American scientist, finds that the beings floating in the atmosphere (called Picards) are sentient and intelligent but doesn’t quite understand their full possibilities. One of his jobs is to figure out why the planet seems to be covered in white spores. After the fungus finds its way out in a lab explosion, Ion is infected which causes heightened tension between the two colonies leading to a would-be air strike. The resolution paints towards certain ideas of hope hich will not be revealed because of its spoiler potential. Sori’s use of music and scale in terms of large moving ships, either taking off or crashing show what the medium of this type of CG optimizing an anime structure is capable of. However, it seems that its ability in space to give objects weight is its most interesting current capability though the emotional depths in the eyes continues to get better. The accompanying special program interview like “Orbit” talks about the elements on the planet and the love affair between the character sbut is not as dense as the previous outing. The trailers play more to the strength of “Orbit” though the “Symbiotic” episode seems much more mythic for whatever reason. In terms of trailers, “Summer Wars” has the most impact with its online/”Wargames”-like sttructure which allows for a balance of old school with neo-modern thinking but “Samurai Champloo” shows some of the coolness that people like Tarantino have been speaking about for ages.

“TO” is a wonderful piece of work that keeps pushing anime upwards and forwards, both embracing its heritage and improving what it is capable of, both in stories and in visuals. Out of 5, I give it a 3.